Police in Mondolkiri province last week arrested a North Korean man on immigration violations and deported him to Vietnam, a high-ranking police official said Tuesday.
A rights worker in the province said that the man may have been an asylum seeker hoping to reach South Korea but added that the information was still uncertain.
“We’ve already sent him back to the country where he came from,” Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said by telephone from Siem Reap province.
“He came through Vietnam,” Sok Phal said, adding that he could not recall the man’s name or on which day he had been arrested but that the North Korean had been deported the day he was detained.
Sok Phal said police had not determined whether the man was an asylum seeker. The individual did not carry a passport and had entered Cambodia illegally, he added.
“We don’t know what he wanted, we didn’t question him,” he said. “If we kept him too long it would have been a problem,” he added, though he declined to comment further.
Police in Mondolkiri said they were unaware of the North Korean’s arrest and deportation.
“This isn’t clear yet. Nobody has reported it to me,” said Nhem Vanny, provincial police chief. Deputy police chiefs Ngin Sophoeun and Sam Sam Ath also said they were unaware of the arrest.
Sam Sarin, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said a source within the provincial police had told him of the arrest last week but that details still remained unclear.
The source had claimed that the North Korean had been hoping to reach South Korea, Sam Sarin said.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun arrived in Cambodia on Sunday for a four-day state visit. He asked Monday for Cambodian assistance in negotiating with the North.
Sam Sarin said that authorities should not have sent the man back to Vietnam if he had indeed sought asylum in Cambodia.
Deborah Backus, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh, said this was the first time a North Korean national had reportedly entered Cambodia via Mondolkiri province.
The UN agency learned of the arrest on Tuesday and had not yet made a decision on what to do in the case, she said.
“We can’t comment on what actions will be taken until we receive further clarification,” she said.
“Non refoulement prohibits states from returning refugees or asylum seekers to territories where they are at risk,” she said, adding that information was as yet too scarce to say whether the principle had been violated in this case.
Kim Kwang-guk, first secretary at the North Korean Embassy, said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.
An official at the South Korean Embassy said on condition of anonymity that the embassy had not been informed of the arrest.
Nguyen Son Thuy, a counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, declined to comment, saying he was unaware of the matter.
A Human Rights Watch representative said that the organization was unaware of the case but added that Cambodia should abide by its obligations under the UN refugee convention.